Dying of Whiteness

Dying of Whiteness January 24, 2020

The critical theory of racial identity politics has come for the medical profession.

The prestigious British medical journal The Lancet has published a positive book review of Jonathan Metzl’s book Dying of Whiteness:  How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland.

It associates the health problems of America’s white working class–opioid addiction, alcoholism, liver disease, heart problems, and suicide–with gun ownership, racism, and right wing politics.  It then ties them all together into a diagnosis of “whiteness.”

The review in Lancet, by Rhea W. Boyd, entitled Despair Doesn’t Kill, Defending Whiteness Does, seems to take the idea even further:

For humans to use whiteness to manufacture access and privilege, they must engineer scarcity and loss. This entanglement between access and scarcity, privilege and loss, means white people’s unearned advantages have always been tethered to a legacy of untold deaths. This is not the result of an emotional positioning, but a structural one. In Dying of Whiteness, Metzl intricately outlines this structural framework but too often anchors it to an emotional foundation his analysis both critiques and depends on. This is perhaps why his conclusion is to “Promote more healthy and self-reflective frameworks…of structural whiteness” when the only solution is to eliminate whiteness all together.

 Eliminate whiteness all together?  You mean, as in genocide?
The notion that whiteness is a disease would seem to go against the claims that white people are “privileged.”  If poor Southerners–the focus of the study–are so plagued by disease and “despair,” how are they privileged?  If race is at the root of their problems, why aren’t affluent middle class white progressives, such as most of the readers of Lancet, also afflicted in the same way?  And why are working class blacks also plagued by many of the same problems?
Comments James Freeman in ‘The Consequences of Structural Whiteness are Fatal’:  A famous medical journal succumbs to radical politics in the Wall Street Journal [subscription required]:

If someone set out to create a more offensive and less defensible version of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” argument, they might end up with this Lancet essay. It arrives dressed up in the language of medical research, but readers should not expect to be presented with any more of a fact-based argument than Mrs. Clinton offered. . . .What does Dr. Boyd’s claim that “the consequences of structural whiteness are fatal” have to do with medicine or scientific knowledge?

Progressives used to champion the working class.  Old-school socialists like Bernie Sanders and New Deal democrats like Joe Biden still do.  But as the progressive movement gets taken over by the well-educated, affluent–and white–elite, advocates of identity politics often have only disdain for their social inferiors.  The working class of all races does have big problems, but these “deplorables” are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity.

The contempt they feel from people who consider themselves to be their “betters” has driven many of them into the arms of Donald Trump, who does treat them with dignity and whose policies advance their interests.  Their support of Trump, of course, makes the elite treat them with even more contempt.

Associating a race with disease–a disease that needs to be wiped out–has long been the stock in trade of racist rhetoric, including the anti-Jewish writing of anti-semites.  It’s disconcerting to find this kind of propaganda in a leading medical journal.



Illustration from PeakPx, Creative Commons zero

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